D. LEONARDT & CO. (HIGHLEY PENS) LTD.
HIGH LEY Nr. BRIDGNORTH SALOP WVI6 6NN
TEL. TELEX TELEGRAMS
HIGHLEY (0748) 861203 338413 PENNA. HIGHLEY
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I "he Author with the
first l oolmakers of
The Highlcy Pen
I he Author with UK-
original Stall' oi
I he Highley I "en
I ron! view of the offices and factory of
D. Leonard! & Co. (Highlcy I'cnsJ Ltd. 1983
THE STEEL PEN TRADE
1930 - 1980
A record of the principal Manufacturers
A description of Manufacturing Processes
An insight into Selling Practices
D. LEONARDT & CO. (HIGHLEY PENS) LTD.
NR. BRIDGNORTH, SHROPSHIRE
Printed by.- Central Office Supplies Telibrd
THE STEEL PEN TRADE 1930-1980
Towards the end of the 19th century the book entitled "The Story of the
Invention of Steel Pens", with a description of the manufacturing processes
by which they were produced, was written and published by the late Mr.
Henry Bore. This book was given to me by my Father when I entered the
steel pen trade in 1930 and I have found, like many others, that it is an
excellent recording of the subject from the year 1822 when steel pens were
first made on hand presses, up to the date of publication approximately 60
As I have said Mr. Bore completed his book towards the close of the 19th
century and 100 years have now passed since the book was published.
I can divide my experience into two parts, the first part was from 1930 to the
outbreak of war with Germany after which there followed a gap of seven
years, 3Vi years of which I spent as a Territorial Officer in Japanese Prisoner
of War Camps. The second phase of my industrial experience stretches
from my de- mobilisation to the present day.
During the first period I ran my Father's business of T. Hessin & Company
which although still registered as a Private Company no longer manu-
factures pens. After the war I founded the Highley Pen Company in the
village of Highley and in 1 949 merged this business with the old established
business of D. Leonardt & Company and thus D. Leonardt & Co. (Highley
Pens) Ltd., came into being.
NAMES OF MANUFACTURERS IN THE 1930's
I think at the outset it might be a good thing to place on record the names of
the Manufacturers of pens (and by this I mean steel and non-ferrous metal
pen nibs) in the year 1930 when I entered my Father's business ofT. Hessin
& Company in Wheeleys Lane, Birmingham, where we manufactured
between 10,000 and 15,000 gross of pens per week.
At that time, and I give them in alphabetical order, the following firms were
manufacturing pens and all of them had their factory in Birmingham,
except E.S. Perry.
1. Baker & Finnemore Ltd.
2. British Pens Ltd.
3. C. Brandauer & Co. Ltd.
4. Joseph Gillott & Sons Ltd.
5. T. Hessin & Co.
6. Geo. W. Hughes
BAKER & FINNEMORE LTD.
7. D. Leonard! & Co.
8. Macniven & Cameron Ltd.
9. John Mitchell
10. M. Myers & Son Ltd.
11. Perry Pens Ltd.
12. E.S. Perrv Ltd.
One of the smaller Manufacturers and in terms of output about equal to
that of my Father's Company T. Hessin & Company. They were owned
and run by the Barnwell family and I knew Mr. Arthur Barnwell and his son
Edward who, alas, died at a comparatively early age.
BRITISH PENS LIMITED
One of the largest companies run by Mr. Studdy Hooper and afterwards by
his son Brian Hooper and in 1930 embraced two well known firms, William
Mitchell and Hinks Wells and occupied substantial premises in Bearwood
Road, Smethwick. The firm of William Mitchell had for many years been
famous for lettering pens, and like Joseph Gillott, pens for artists' use, that is
drawing pens and lithographic pens, and this name is still famous
throughout the world for these specialist products. At that time, in 1930,
British Pens were the second largest firm of pen makers and had developed
a very considerable business in making parts other than pens, such as metal
parts for the hosiery trade.
C. BRANDAUER & COMPANY LTD.
Occupied premises in New John Street West and had a number of very well
known pens which sold throughout the world. This Company was owned
and run for many years by the Petit Family at this time a descendant Mr.
Adrien Petit is Chairman of the Company.
JOSEPH GILLOTT & SONS LTD.
Occupied Victoria Pen Works in Graham Street, Birmingham, so named
after a visit by Queen Victoria in whose honour a mahogany staircase was
erected. In the early 30's the head of the firm was Mr. Bernard Gillott but
after the second world war his son, and my friend and contemporary,
Nicholas Gillott took over the direction of the Company. There was always
a certain rivalry, which is referred to in the book by Mr. Bore, between
Gillott and Mitchell as to who actually started the manufacture of steel
pens, but the year was 1822 and it is not for me 160 years later to act as
arbitrator in this matter. Suffice it to say that John Mitchell and Joseph
Gillott were the first to manufacture pens on hand presses.
T. HESSIN & COMPANY
Owned by my Father the late Mr. T.H. Charles and apart from pens had
very few other outlets. We found our business to a great extent in the
cheaper range of the market and this will be understood more fijlly when I
discuss the various outlets.
GEORGE W. HUGHES
Again a private firm which had been founded by Mr. George W. Hughes
and at the time I came into the trade it was run by his son Roderick Hughes.
Mr. Hughes produced pens of the highest quality and was a specialist in
metallurgy, heat treatment and all the different processes which made up a
steel pen. He was also widely travelled and was a student of far eastern
languages. A particular feature of George W. Hughes was that they never
made pens which did not bear their own imprint, a policy which stood them
in good stead in later years.
D. LEONARDT & COMPANY
Again a private company, a partnership as opposed to a Limited Company,
between Mr. Hewitt and Mr. Charles Leonardt who occupied premises in
Charlotte Street, Birmingham, ofFSummer Row. They manufactured pens
of the highest quality and their export market extended to South America
and to the Eastern countries of Europe. I shall refer to this company later in
my book because a merger was formed in 1949 between my own company
and D. Leonardt & Company.
MACNIVEN & CAMERON
Run in 1930 by Mr. Duncan Cameron whose brother Waverley Cameron
ran the printing works in Edinburgh.Perhaps Macniven and Cameron are
best remembered by the advertisement which appeared for many years on
railway stations which read 'They come as a boon and a blessing to men, the
Pickwick, the Owl and the Waverley Pen', even today this clever
advertisement is remembered by many people.
A firm , as distinct from either a private or public limited company, the
proprietor of which was Mr. Henry Mitchell. The day to day running of the
business was conducted by his son Eric Mitchell. This firm occupied a large
site in Moland Street, Birmingham, close to the Birmingham General
M. MYERS & COMPANY LIMITED
Again an old company of moderate size which made a substantial weekly
quantity of pens, but which in later years wisely developed their business in
other directions and are now famous the world over for the 'Bull Dog' letter
clip and make a wide variety of pressings for shops, including shop fittings.
In 1930 this business was run by Mr. Ronald Myers and my contemporary
is his son Malcolm Myers who has led the business very successfully for a
great many years.
PERRY PENS LIMITED
When I entered the trade they were the biggest manufacturers of pens in the
world and occupied very substantial premises in Lancaster Street,
Birmingham and the head of the firm was Mr. Oliver Smith who was of an
older generation than I but whose son John Smith I got to know very well as
I grew up in the trade.
E.S. PERRY LIMITED
This Company was founded by Mr. Edmund Perry in 1921 and he had two
sons, Michael and James. James actually produced the nibs and Michael
was responsible for the marketing and administration. The factory of E.S.
Perry is based in Gosport and still produces high quality hand finished
stainless steel nibs. These are marketed as fountain pens and specialist
fountain pen sets under the Osmiroid brand and enjoy a world wide
In chapter one I have, to the best of my belief, listed the Manufacturers of
pens as they existed in 1930 when I entered the trade and in my next chapter
I feel that I should devote space to the raw material used and the
manufacturing processes, as they were carried out in the early days,
followed in a later chapter by the effect which automation has had in the
A rolling mill tor producing (he
correct gauge of sled
The type of steel used in the manufacture of steel pens has not materially
altered since the days of its invention and the following is a typical analysis:-
Spring Steel CS/70
Carbon Silicon Manganese Sulphur Phosphorous Iron
Min. 0.65 0.05 0.50 BAL
Max. 0.75 0.35 0.90 0.045 0.045 BAL
In the early days it was a recognised practice for the older
Manufacturers to buy in steel in the hot rolled condition, in short lengths,
and roll it down themselves to the thickness which they eventually required
for each particular nib. The practice in 1930 was to buy steel in coils from
the well known manufacturers in Sheffield This was an important change
and a great step forward because in 1930 by reason of the fact that the steel
was supplied in coil form by the Manufacturers, it was possible to feed it
automatically through power presses, which resulted in the combination of
operations, which hitherto had proved impossible. The thickness of carbon
steel used for pen making varies from .003" for the manufacture of
Lithographic or Drawing Pens to .025" for the manufacture of Manifold or
Copying Pens. Most pens are made from steel .009" — 010" thick.
SOME PROCESSES IX PEX MAKIMi.
F.mhotntig. Raising. Grinding. Stirring.
An illustration taken from Henry
Bore's book, showing steel scrap
after blanks have been cut out. The
steel has been reversed and put
through the cutting tool twice so
that the points of the pen are
interlaced, thus reducing scrap to a
MANUFACTURING OPERATIONS: 1-17
The following are the operations which had to be carried out to
manufacture a steel pen and in the following pages I shall try to give an
account of each in some detail.
1. Cutting or Blanking 10. Grinding
2. Piercing 11. Slitting
3. Annealing 12. Point forming
4. Marking 13. Polishing
5. Embossing 14. Colouring
6. Raising 15. Lacquering
7. Hardening 16. Looking over
8. Tempering 17. Boxing
BLANKING OR CUTTING
Blanking of pens
trom strip on
In the early days the blanking or cutting operations were performed by
women who fed steel strip through a hand press in approximately six foot
lengths. Originally the blanking operations simply produced a plain blank
which subsequently had to be formed up into the finished shape of the pen.
The length of steel which had been sheared to the correct width to suit the
overall length of the pen was pulled from the back to the front of the hand
press by the operator and each nib was blanked out by means of a punch
entering a die. Around the punch was mounted what is known as a stripper
which had the effect of freeing the scrap material from the cutting punch so
that the steel could be pulled forward to cut the next blank. The distance
which the steel could come forward was controlled by what was known as a
finger stop and the bar, or scrap material between each blank, came to rest
on this stop before the operator made the next blow. As I have said the only
operation being performed was that of plain blanking without a mark or
pierce hole, but there was one exception to this, for in many cases an
identification was put on the edge of the blank known as a raising bit, and
this was achieved by filing a small recess in the edge of the cutting punch.
The object of this will be better understood later on, but its purpose was to
give the Raisers a means of identification so that they did not raise the pens
upside down after they had been marked. In the majority of factories the
Cutter, as she was called, generally cut 1 30 gross, or 1 8,720 nibs into a metal
work pan which was supported underneath the press, and this was known
as a lot'.
In nearly all steel pens there is a pierce hole in the centre of the pen and very
often ornamental piercing or side cracks, the purpose of all of which is to
give flexibility to the nib when it has been finished. Again in the early days
pens were pierced on hand presses and the operator or Piercer used to pick
up the nibs one by one and place them over a piercing bed locating them
by means of adjustable guides which ensured that the pierce hole would be
placed exactly centrally in the pen. As in the case of blanking as each pen
was pierced the piercing punch came up and was released from the pen by
means of a stripper. It was the duty of the piercing toolmaker to see that at
all times the piercing tool was kept properly ground so that no burr
appeared on the edge of the pierce hole.
When the pens were blanked out and pierced the raw material was in a hard
rolled condition because it is easier to maintain a burr free blank and to
pierce a burr free hole from hard material than it is from soft material and
the next operation was the annealing of the pierced blanks prior to the
Annealing was done in the following manner. -The blanks were packed into
what were called annealing pots which in the early days were made of cast
iron, and the pens were laid on top of one another and with a pommel they
were kept in the flat condition. When the pot had been filled a plate was put
on top of the blanks and was held down by a spring. The inner pot as it was
called was then inverted and put into an outer pot head first, after which the
gap between the inner and outer pot was filled up with silver sand. The
annealing pots were then ready to go into the annealing furnace which at
that time was heated by coal. The pens were brought up to a temperature of
700° C and were soaked for two hours. The furnace was then turned off and
the pots were allowed to cool down inside the furnace overnight. Next
morning they were withdrawn and were in a fully annealed condition. The
fact that they had been protected from the atmosphere by reason of the
inner and outer pots meant that they were still free of scale and were ready
for the fourth operation which was the process of marking.
Regrettably this process placed the operators at considerable risk and I am
happy to say that nowadays this has been completely eliminated. In the
early days, however, a pen was marked by means of an operator who picked
up the blank which had now been pierced and annealed, and placed it in a
guide in the marking stamp. This stamp consisted of a foot operated stirrup
and a pulley wheel over the marking tool . A weight was then lifted by the
operator by means of the foot pulley and when a pen had been placed in the
guides she released the pulley and allowed the weight to crash down upon
the correctly located blank. As the Reader will understand it was inevitable
that from time to time the operator inadvertently left her finger over the pen
when freeing the weight and as a result many crushed fingers occurred
which thankfully are now a thing of the past
Most pens were marked, but under my heading of Operations I have
included a process of embossing. Many of my Readers will be familiar with
the famous 'J' pen which had a capital 'J' embossed on the centre of the pen.
This embossing was done in the same way as the marking, but it was done
with a Male and Female tool which produced a clearly visible raised capital
letter such as the J. Regrettably the same risks which applied to the
marking operation also occurred in the operation of embossing.
The raising, or forming operation, was described by Mr. Henry Bore with
great accuracy in his book and it is true to say that 100 years later the same
process is followed. In his book Mr. Bore explains with great clarity how the
raising tools are assembled, but I think the extreme skill which was required
by raising tool makers to produce the correct shape needs clarification.
When I first entered the trade there was great rivalry between the raising
joolmakers and the cutting toolmakers. The cutting toolmaker always said
'any fool could raise it', whereas the raising toolmaker used to say 'there is
nothing in cutting out a blank, the greater skill rests in the forming of that
blank'. My sympathies I must confess are with the raising toolmaker. For
example, if one was requested to produce a pen that one had never made
before, the toolmaker you first approached was the Raising Toolmaker to
whom you gave the sample, with the request: "Please develop a blank."
This toolmaker had the skill to make a raising tool which would produce the
shape of the sample. To do this he had to create his own blanks, which
required him to take a piece of steel or metal and file it by hand until he
created the correct blank to produce the finished article. Having made his
raising tool he tested the filed blanks in it until he established the correct
size of blank, after which he said to the Cutting Toolmaker, "I want a blank
of those dimensions." The Cutting Toolmaker, because of his experience
and skill and because he was able to copy the blank which the raising
Toolmaker had filed up, was able to produce a cutting tool which produced
blanks suitable for the Raising Toolmaker, although he was not concerned
with the original development.
To raise a pen one must have a raising tool, both punch and die, but one
must also remember that there must be a gap between the punch and die to
allow for the thickness of raw material which is being used for the
manufacture of the pen. If the punch and die exactly fit one another the
effect will be a squeeze which as applied will make the raw material thinner
on each side of the pen. The method used therefore to make a raising tool
was first of all to make a drift, and these master drifts were greatly cherished
by the raising toolmaker, who had filed them up by hand, and had hardened,
tempered and polished them so that he could produce from them a raising
The way in which this raising die was made was to cut oflfa section of steel,
in my day it was Jessops best cast water hardening steel, and to heat it to a
temperature of around 800 C C. This piece of steel was then put into what
was known as a 'drifting press' and the drift which the toolmaker had made
was driven into it and formed a shape. The raising bed was at this stage red
hot and as soon as the shape had been imprinted into it by the raising drift, it
was removed from the drifting press and put under a quench and a jet of
water was directed into the centre of the raising bed which hardened it. I
shall describe this in more detail when I discuss the question of hardening
The raising toolmaker then took the bed which had been drifted, cleaned it
and polished it, and then manufactured a punch which fitted the internal
radius of the component which was to be raised, and this punch was smaller
by the extent of the thickness of raw material of the pen than the raising
drift. The raising toolmaker then had a punch and a bed which Mr. Bore so
rightly describes fitted in a hand press. The bed was fitted in a bolster and
the punch in what was known as a 'false nose'.
As in the case of piercing, the pens were raised individually and fed into the
raising tool by hand and the average output of the 'Raiser' was one lot of
pens per day, i.e. 18,720. In the early days, and this is what I am dealing with
for the moment, when the pens were fed into the raising guides, as they were
called, the 'Raiser' pulled the handle of the fly press and the raising punch
descended with considerable force on top of the pen. The presses used for
this operation were double sided hand presses which exerted a very
considerable pressure. As in the case of the original marking operations the
'Raisers' ran a considerable risk of pinching the forefinger of the left hand in
the raising tool and this was a very unpleasant injury which by insistence
upon the use of hand press guards has now been virtually eliminated. One of
the difficulties in raising a pen was once the pen had been formed by the
punch it had to be extracted from the raising bed, and although in most
cases there was a spring loaded peg in the bed, this did not push the pen out
of its position laterally. To do this the women raisers used to hold a stick
in their right hand and at the end of the stick there was a leather pad
attached by a pin and as the raising punch went back the operators used to
sweep this bit of leather across the die and sweep the pen away with it
The timing required very great accuracy because not only were they
concerned with sweeping away the raised pen, but they also had to pick up
the next pen with their left hand to put into the die. I have remarked in my
paragraph on blanking that pens were identified in some cases by a raising
bit so that the operator could make certain that the mark which was already
on the pen was placed downwards. Some Raisers were known as bit raisers
and some as mark raisers. In other words the bit raiser went by feel and the
mark raiser went by eyesight. When the Reader stops to think that 18,720
nibs had to be selected from a pile on the left of the press, transferred to the
raising die, raised and actually extracted by means of a bit of leather on the
end of a stick, at the rate of 18,720 a day, he or she will appreciate that
whatever was earned was truly earned.
HARDENING AND TEMPERING
Coa! fired furnaces tor hardening and/or annealing pens.
Before describing the ways in which these two operations have been carried
out over the last 50 years, I think I should start off by telling a story which I
was told in 1930. Before the days of gunpowder, during the course of a
battle, two soldiers were one night using their swords for a purpose quite
unconnected with killing the enemy. They had impaled a piece of meat on
their swords and were cooking it over an open fire. Suddenly and
unexpectedly the Orderly Officer of the day was heard approaching on his
rounds. Both Soldiers immediately scraped the pieces of meat off the ends of
their swords and one put the red hot sword tip into a bucket of cold water
which happened to be standing nearby. The other soldier threw his sword
with the red hot point into the undergrowth, and when the Officer of the
Day arrived both soldiers were simply sitting round the fire. Next day they
both went into battle and when the first soldier used his sword in anger the
point snapped off, the second soldier when he too used his sword against the
enemy found that instead of skewering his assailant his sword bent at the
A lesson may be learnt about the process of hardening and tempering
carbon steel from this story. In the case of the first soldier the sword was red
hot, probably at about 800°C, but because he put it into a bucket of cold
water the instant cooling had the effect of hardening the tip of the sword. In
the case of the second soldier the fact that he threw the sword away into the
undergrowth had allowed it to cool slowly, having the effect of annealing
the sword, that is making it soft. In order to harden and temper carbon steel
in the 1930's, and I say this because methods have changed in recent years,
it was necessary to heat the pens to a temperature of 800/850° C, then to
quench them into either cold oil or water to make them brittle, and then to
temper them back which meant submitting them to a temperature of approx-
imately 280°C until the necessary spring temper was achieved When I
entered my Father's business at the age of 16 one of my first tasks was to
work in the hardening shop. At that time we used a coal fired 'fire brick'
muffle in which to heat the pens for hardening. This heat was achieved by
shovelling coal into the lower part of the furnace, rather like firing a steam
engine, and the dampers were opened by hand mechanically and when the
correct temperature had been achieved the furnace was damped down. The
raised pens, which it will be remembered at that time were soft, were then
placed in cast iron hardening pots with a lid, and these pots were put into the
chamber above the coal heated chamber to heat up to a temperature of
approximately 800°C. This temperature was judged in those days by eye
and was known as 'cherry red* and when the man working the hardening
furnace could see that all the pots were 'cherry red' in colour, he allowed the
work to soak at that colour for at least 20-30 minutes. Then by means of a
long steel rod with a hook the pots were drawn to the front of the furnace
and were seized by the hardener with a pair of tongs and were quenched.
This was done by carrying the hardening pot containing the pens over the
quench tank which generally consisted of whale oil or seal oil. The lid was
removed by hooking it over a stake above the quench tank and by a quick
turn of the wrist the pens were discharged from the hardening pot into a
basket which stood in the oil quench tank.
It was only in the case of what were known as 'common pens', that is pens
which were sold in the cheapest market, that water was used as an economy
measure in which to quench the work, but the quality of the hardening, that
is the grain structure, was not as good as the pens which were quenched in
This operation follows immediately after hardening and the first step was to
clean the oil off the pens which had been quenched in oil in a hot degreasing
solution and dry them off They were then ready for the tempering
operation. The equipment used for tempering was a gas heated revolving
barrel which was mounted within an outer casing. The temperature was
controlled by four or five gas jets which could be regulated from the front
Whereas the temperature used for hardening was in the range of 800/850°C
the temperature required for tempering was in the range 280/350°C. The
Reader will recall that the pens had been put through the earlier operations
in what were known as lots of 18,720 pens and the tempering barrels were
designed in such a way that they held one lot of pens. The barrels could be
tilted or inclined backwards and the pens were put into a hand chute and
put into the small aperture in the front of the barrel which was then brought
back to a horizontal position. The process of tempering would normally
take about 20 minutes to Vi an hour per lot and it must be remembered that
in those early days there were no pyrometers and a physical check had to be
taken to see that the pens had reached the correct temper. This was done
after the first quarter of an hour by extracting a few pens on a ladle which
was usually referred to as a 'spoon', and crushing the pens with a pair of
pliers. The normal measure of the correct temper was that the pens had to
crack longitudinally from point to heel for about half the distance from the
centre in each direction. In other words if the pens were too brittle they
snapped from end to end and fell apart in two pieces; whereas if they were
too soft they could be flattened quite easily without any cracks showing in
the surface. From experience those who had been doing the job for a long
time could very easily tell when the pens had the correct spring, by the use of
a pair of pliers, and indeed to some extent by eye through noting the colour,
which gave an indication as to whether the Vickers hardness of the pens was
roughly in the range 392/440. It was important as we shall see later when we
deal with the operation of colouring, that the pens were discharged
immediately the correct temper had been achieved. So the barrel was tilted
and the pens fell onto a long metal tray on which they were evenly spread so
that the heat did not continue to be generated and soften the pens. When the
pens had been allowed to cool they were tipped from the tray into the
workpan and were then ready for the next operation which was known as
Following tempering it was necessary to remove the scaling which had been
caused by the exposure of the pens to the atmosphere during the process of
hardening. This was done in my early days by immersing the pens in a 1-10
solution of sulphuric acid and water or alternatively by immersing them in
neat hydrochloric acid and the latter was found preferable because it did not
cause embrittlement of the pens. The acid immersion served to loosen the
scale after which the pens were put into revolving steel barrels with spikes
inside with a mixture of dehydrated lime, water and pebble, and they were
run in these barrels at an approximate speed of 30-35 revolutions per
minute for a period of 12 hours. This operation was known as wet scouring.
It served not only to clean the pens but to barrel off any frays which had
been caused in the blanking operation. It is interesting to note that after the
wet scouring operation was finished the pens had to be dried off, and this
was done in a gas heated barrel containing wood dust. The normal type of
dust was Deal which could readily be obtained from sawdust merchants.
Deal was an excellent absorbant and dried the pens, thereby preventing any
Artists impression of a pen hand-grinding room
Not all steel pens were ground but the more expensive and higher quality
pens were not only "cross ground" but often "straight ground" and "letter
ground" as well. The process of grinding was not essential to the use of the
pen and many pens in the cheaper markets of the world were sold without
any form of grinding at all.
What is meant by grinding is that a strip approximately l A" in width was
ground off the hardened and tempered pen from side to side a short distance
back from the point prior to slitting in order to give greater flexibility to the
point, this was known as "cross grinding".
The straight grinding was applied chiefly for the sake of appearance and the
straight grinding was taken from the point towards the heel of the pen. This
too has the effect of marginally decreasing the overall thickness of the pen in
order to achieve greater flexibility towards the point
The third type of grinding was known as letter grinding; for example in the
case of the well known 'J pen where the 'J' as I have described previously
was embossed on the pen, the surface of the 4 J was ground in order to make
the letter stand out from the rest of the pen.
The way in which grinding was done was as follows: A 'lot' (130 gross) of
pens was taken by the operator to the grinding room and placed on the left
hand side of the grinding wheeLThese grinding wheels were made of wood,
and emery powder was glued to the wheel in order to form the grinding
surface. Each pen was then picked up and placed in a pair of hand pliers and
with a circular movement of the wrist the operator drew the pen across the
surface of the revolving wheel. One of the most important things was the
maintenance of the grit and the redressing of the wheels at regular intervals
in order that the grinding pattern should remain constant. One of the
unpleasant things about this operation was the dust which was created
during the process but 50 years ago when I entered the trade extractors were
provided to remove this dust and these were quite efficient and exposed the
operator to little or no risk.
Artist's impression of a pen hand-slitting room.
We have now reached the stage where the pens have been manufactured,
hardened and tempered and polished up to the stage of slitting.
Slitting is the operation which divides the point of the pen into two
equal parts so that when the point is applied to paper the points spread and
produce a thick or thin stroke according to the pressure exerted
When I first entered the trade, slitting was all done on hand presses, and
the slitting tools consisted of two cutters which worked together in the same
way as the blades of a pair of scissors. The cutting edge of the bottom cutter
was horizontal and that of the top cutter was ground at an angle so that it
sheared through the point of the pen first and worked its way back to the
pierce hole until the pen point was slit right through.
The pens were located above the bottom cutter by means of guides, a table
guide was provided on which the heel of the pen rested and the point of the
pen lay over the bottom horizontal cutter. To control the point of the pen
exactly centrally over the bottom cutter, two spring guides were provided
which could be adjusted one way or the other, and as the top cutter came
down the bottom point guide moved down under spring pressure under the
top cutter giving clearance for the cutter to move along the horizontal
length of the bottom cutter.
When the pens had been slit in this way it was normal to get a fairly high
percentage of the pens with the right hand point depressed, known as
'clickers', and to rectify this the girls who operated the presses put the pens
into what was known as a 'shaking bag* and with one girl at each end of the
'shaking bag* they shook the pens vigorously which had the effect of clicking
the depressed point back into position. It is worth noting that whereas the
work was issued as in other cases to the slitter in lots of 130 gross, or 18,720
pens, I have known a slitter on a hand press who could slit 260 gross in a day
of 8 hours or 28,800 seconds which means that the operator in question was
picking up and putting into the hand press pens at the rate of 1.3 per second
throughout the working day — it would in my view have earned a place in a
book of records.
The slitting operation was much faster than the raising because the
movement of the tool was much shorter. It is interesting to note that in the
case of slitters there were two types. One method of slitting was for the
operator to push the fly of the hand press with the back of the wrist of the left
hand. The other method was to pull the fly of the hand press towards her
with the right hand. In the first case the pens were fed with the right hand
and the movement of the press controlled by the left hand. In the second
case the pens were fed by the left hand and the movement of the press
controlled by the right hand.
It was interesting that these two methods developed and I think it was
mostly caused by the personal inclination of the operators, although in my
experience the fastest slitters were those who used the wrist of the left hand.
Photograph of a
taken in the 1950's.
Following slitting the next operation if required was that of point forming
although this applied to a limited number of pens only, but those that were
point formed sold in very large quantities, and probably the most famous
pens were Macniven and Cameron's Waverley pen and D. Leonardt &
Co.'s ball pointed pen which was the subject of a patent.
In the case of the Waverley pen the point forming consisted of turning up
about 1/32" of the extreme point so that it stood away from the paper and
prevented scratching. Although in fact this was known as 'turning up the
point' the way in which it was done was by feeding the pen into the guides of
the point forming hand press upside down and depressing the point so that
in the writing position the point was clear of the paper.
In the case of D. Leonardt & Co.'s ball point pen, which as I have mentioned
above was the subject of a patent, the object was to make a convex writing
surface which was extremely smooth and this ball pointing as it was called
was done by making a raising bed in a piece of steel into which a punch fitted
with due allowance for the thickness of the raw material. These balling beds
were very exactly made and the toolmakers concerned took great care of the
drifts which were used in the same way as the raising drifts were used so that
the exact form could be repeated.
There were several other pens which had this point forming operation and I
remember one in particular which was a Manifold pen, that was made of
thick material and which was used for making carbon copies. It was
purchased in great quantities by a firm called J.B. Mallat of Paris and this,
again, had a ball point in order to avoid scratching as much as possible.
Strangely one of D. Leonardt & Co.'s customers in Iceland called for a
series of pens in 4 point widths on which the points were turned down
towards the paper, thus producing a very clearly defined line.
We have now reached the stage where the pens are ready for their final
polish before colouring.
In the early 1930's the most usual form of media for burnishing the
pens was white granite chippings which came from Welsh stone. These
granite chippings were available from recognised pebble and stone suppliers
in Birmingham. One of the best known names in this particular trade was
the firm of E.W. Richards of Park Road Sand Mines, Birmingham and it
was a boast of this firm that they never had to send out a traveller to get
orders, so great and consistent was the demand for their polishing stones in
It was customary to put into the stone a very small quantity of lard oil and
the consistency of the stone was judged to be correct when one could pick up
a handful of the mixture, and observe the oil and stones slightly clinging to
each other before separating.
The pens were put into the same type of barrel as we used for the wet scour
operation and were run for approximately 12 hours, after which they had a
deep lustre and after further barrelling in polishing dust they shone as
though they had been hand polished, which showed up after the final
colouring operation which I shall deal with next.
Unlike the deal dust which was used for drying off the pens following wet
scouring, the type of dust used for burnishing the pens in their final polish
was a hard dust, such as 'beech' or 'birch' and here again these grades of dust
could readily be bought from sawdust merchants who kept the dust from
different timbers separately.
The final colour for pens was of course dictated by the Customers and they
could be either bronze or blue or indeed gold plated should the Customer
demand them. I will deal with each in turn.
Artists impression of the orginal method for
colouring or bronzing pens. Circa 1850.
The bronzing of the pen was done in exactly the same type of barrel as that
used for tempering the pens and it may be of interest to some readers to give
the colour which is obtained through various degrees centigrade:-
DEGREES CENTIGRADE COLOUR OF STEEL
221.1 Very pale yellow
226.7 Light yellow
232.2 Pale straw-yellow
243.3 Deep straw-yellow
248.9 Dark yellow
265.6 Spotted red-brown
276.7 Light purple
282.2 Full purple
287.8 Dark purple
293.3 Full blue
298.9 Dark blue
337.8 Light blue
It will be seen from the above table that a certain heat produces a certain
colour but of course in those days there were no controlled pyrometers and
one could not do as one can today, that is immerse the pens in a tempering
solution at a controlled temperature, but one had to do it by eye, and just as
one tested the pens during the tempering operation by fishing a few out of
the revolving barrel with a metal spoon, so one did the same with colouring.
What one had to be very careful about was that one tipped out the pens onto
the tray before they had reached the colour needed, because colour
continued to deepen even after they left the barrel because of the heat which
they were holding.
The final operation before 'looking over' or 'viewing' and subsequently
boxing and labelling was the lacquering process.
In the early 1930's and indeed later the lacquering department was a special
room which was kept completely free from dust. The actual lacquering
solution was a mixture of methylated spirits and orange or lemon shellac
and this solution was prepared by the man in charge of the lacquering shop.
The process was as follows: - The pens were put into an open top wire basket
and were then dipped into the lacquering solution, they were then removed
from the solution, allowed to drain for a few moments and then the basket
was put into a spinner which was operated by a motor driven belt which
threw ofFthe surplus lacquer, which was used again. Following this the pens
were put into a horizontal wire basket and were spun round at a
considerable speed until the lacquer dried. As it dried the pens were left with
a white coating and when this had been achieved they were again tipped out
onto a tray and put into a gas heated, open fronted barrel similar to the
colouring barrel and the tempering barrel. This barrel was heated by gas jets
and had the effect of baking the lacquer. Not only did it bake the lacquer till
it was quite dry but the effect of this was to produce a sheen on the nibs of a
high standard. At this point the processes for the manufacture of the steel
pen have been completed.
I am by no means an expert on the processes of electroplating and
throughout my commercial life have always relied on the experts made
available to me by W. Canning & Co. Ltd., of Birmingham and have never
hesitated to avail myself of their laboratory advice whenever this has been
When I first entered the trade the process of barrel nickel plating was very
poor compared with what it is today and in my own business we had
earthenware barrels which revolved in a nickel solution. In those days it was
not a bright nickel solution, and in order to obtain brightness steel stars
were mixed with the work so that they had a burnishing effect as the nickel
was being applied electrolytically, but the result was very poor compared
with the very high standard of brightness which is achieved today by
modern solutions. Furthermore a great disadvantage was that after plating
the steel stars had to be separated from the work by hand on sorting trays.
One of my earliest recollections of nickel plating is of a nickel anode being
suspended in an open fronted hexagonal barrel which revolved and applied
the nickel plate electrolytically to the work to a depth of approximately
It was not unusual for pens to be sold with a barrel copper finish and this
was done in the same way as nickel plating, it also provided a base for gold
plating, or barrel brassing on top of the copper.
This was a finish which was used for very cheap markets where a gold
colour, i.e. 'couleur d'or' was applied which, although not containing any
real gold, gave a gilt finish which satisfied the demands of the cheap
markets. As far as I was concerned one of the most usual markets for this
types of finish was Greece.
When I first went into the trade there was a considerable demand for gilt
pens. The normal practice was to copper the pens before applying the gold,
and having coppered them, the pens were then threaded back-to-back
through the pierce-hole onto wire, with a glass bead between each nib to
prevent nesting. They were then immersed in an enamel "gilding bucket"
into which the electrical current was fed, and shaken about by hand on their
wires until the correct deposit had been achieved.
Photograph of "looking over" pens on glass
Taken in ihe 1950's.
The name given to the inspection of pens was 'looking over'. This was done
on a well lighted bench and the pens to be looked over were placed at the
back of the bench and were drawn down by the 'Lookers over' over a piece
of frosted glass.
It used to take a number of months to train 'lookers over' because they had
to look for a great many things. Nibs were lined up by them with great
dexterity along the edge of the glass and they virtually had to pick out a
defect in any of the manufacturing operations which made up a steel pen,
and as the reader now knows there were many operations.
For many years the categories for 'lookers over' consisted of 'perfect'nibs
which were dropped over the edge of the glass down a chute into a container,
and 'seconds' which were dropped into another container alongside. These
'seconds' were pens which would write correctly but had some other minor
defect which made them less than perfect. For example a bad mark, bad
colour, slightly twisted raising, grinding which was uneven,which although
not turning them into defective writing instruments made them less than
perfect. In the case of my own Company these 'seconds' pens were sold in
less sophisticated markets where orders depended more on price than
perfection of quality. Very often these 'seconds' pens were sold as an
assortment in an assorted box of one gross, but care had always to be taken
to see that only those pens which bore the imprint of the Manufacturer were
included in these sales of 'seconds' pens and great care had to be taken to see
that all 'seconds' pens bearing a Customer's imprint were scrapped. In fact
when these specially marked pens were 'looked over' there was no distinction
between a 'seconds' pen and a scrap pen! The only category which was
allowed to pass through were pens which appeared to be perfect
Sometimes for very cheap markets the only fault which was looked for was
that pens had not been slit and to detect this, instead of lining the pens along
the edge of the glass, the 'lookers over' were trained to drop them on the
glass and the non slit pens would make a loud tinkle compared with the
muted sound of a slit pen. It was obvious that a pen which had not been slit
would not write at all, whereas although a pen which had been slit slightly
out of centre would not write as well as a correctly slit pen, it would write
and therefore was allowed to go through.
When the pens had been looked over the next stage was the process of
boxing and labelling.
The normal practice was to use small cardboard boxes containing either
one gross, (i.e. 144 pens) or 100 pens. These boxes were made from straw
board and normally lined with white paper and in the case of my own
Company the boxes were bought from a Manufacturer of cardboard boxes.
Many firms actually manufactured their own boxes.
The process of boxing was done by girls who were trained in the use of
Jewellers balancing scales, that is they counted out one gross of pens, or 100,
whichever the case was, and balanced a gross against the counted gross, by
depressing the thumb lever on the balancing scales. The indicating needle
told them whether it was overweight or underweight and they very quickly
acquired the habit of adding or subtracting to arrive at the correct balance.
The 'Weigher' as she was called tipped the balanced quantity into a small
scoop which was then passed to the girl who was doing the actual boxing
and she again with great dexterity directed the pens into the cardboard box
using the cupped hand to prevent overspill.
In some cases the labels were already stuck to the boxes but in most cases a
plain box was used and what was known as a strip label was put round the
box to secure the lid. The normal pack for pens was 25 boxes each of one
gross with the exception of India for it had been the custom in the Sub
Continent of India to invoice pens as 'great grosses' which consisted of 12
boxes of one gross and this pack was used exclusively for India as far as I can
remember. In the early 30's the self adhesive labels were not used and glue
pots were used by the Labellers when they put the strip labels round the
boxes.These cast iron glue pots were put into an outer container of boiling
water to keep the glue solvent and the girls with the glue brush spread the
glue on the back of the label ready for the Labeller to put them on the box.
As far as the boxes themselves were concerned great importance was
attached to the fact that the boxes should be dry before being used because
most of the pens were made of ferrous steel and were therefore subject to
rust in spite of the protection of the lacquering process and any damp
coming out of the cardboard added to the danger of rust. Nowadays it is
possible to put small pieces of rust prevention paper into boxes containing
steel parts, which prevents the damp spreading to the contents.
I hope that in the previous chapters I have been able to convey a fairly
realistic picture of the operations required for the production of the steel
pen as it existed in the 1930's and I shall now write a chapter in which I shall
try to show how pens were marketed in the 1930's.
When I entered the Pen Trade in 1930 the output from the Birmingham
Pen Manufacturers was estimated to be 10 million gross pens per annum.
Although this quantity seems very large it must be remembered that at that
time there were no ball pens or fibre tip pens, only the fountain pen was
there to challenge the sales of the dipped pen nib.
The World was our market and the number of patterns ran into many
hundreds, for pens were produced to meet the requirements of the style of
handwriting which different Countries preferred. For example the school
pens used in France were very fine pointed, whereas pens used in schools in
Arabic writing Countries were stubby and broad. In some cases the
difference in patterns was considerable, whereas in others a very small
difference in shape or style occurred, but the width of point could vary
I have mentioned earlier in this book that some of the larger Companies
specialized in the advertising and sale of pens marked with their own
name, and the larger firms like Perry Pens built up an enormous demand for
pens with their own imprint which suited requirements of the local
markets. In some cases particular pens had a style which was patented, for
example in the case of D. Leonardt & Company their famous range of ball
pointed pens, and by this I mean a convex tip which made the writing
smoother, was protected by patent. These particular pens were sold mostly
in the (Countries within the old British Empire, such as India, Australia,
New Zealand and many others, and a story has been told that Mr. Glass of
the firm of Ormiston & Glass who had the sole selling rights for the British
Empire went round the World with a box of pen nibs in his pocket as his
only samples and booked vast orders for the famous number 516 pen which
was known throughout the Empire. It is also said that on one occasion Mr.
Glass rode down the Mall on a horse and scattered what looked like
sovereigns onto the road but which were in fact advertising discs for his pen.
As I have mentioned earlier Macniven and Cameron built up a vast sale for
their 'Pickwick Owl and Waverley pens', and in the case of the Waverley this
has a turned up point rather than a convex point, which again took the
extreme point ot the pen off the paper and made writing smoother.
4 ^ .
THIS LIST CANCELS ALL PREVIOUS USTS,
2 8p6- .
Hessih & Co.,
68 BROAD STREET,—
ET tiob MCTUE.
ntcirrcnco thadc mark.
I? AND ALL SMALL METAL ARTICLES
TEL£Cj?AP!j!C ADDRESS :
An early catalogue of T. Hessin & Co. Shown actual size.
Per Pox of 12 .I02.
^rf5mrfa^rfW- TOJ -~.. MAGNETIC ELECTRIC PEN.I
^^—^r — •SIL ..31m ache til fil Mtds in 1 ::ie, Medium, ami 1/0
' . •vllMilft^tfrflt rBTW liroad Points. Copper
^-^^^Tir^s iTTb" Siemens pens.
c=3SlEMfNS PEN_J Strong Flue Point.
^^J^'bi! f 'tfM 1 i'JJ W x incandescent pen.
"^^^^g^^^^^EN) pair* Kmc Point
) *?o H ™" c i pen
J "'" 0O—iliEa— ^^^^^^^^^^ Bronze.
^^H' --^y ^y|i|(i|i[p Ver> s,, "J° th ft™" 1 PolDt
.^arfgEljf^W f WHU"c ^ S DYNAMO PEN.
"^^u^ jj ^ ^^^^SIS J TMWWdgP Point.
cC^^^^^^^^U^^^ 'pI^ Floxlbl*' Medium Pol t
Ono Doion in a Box with Holder.
" MAGNUM BONUM J Bronre.
Uj^^^^ 1 " w "*f 0 FCJNTAI 1 !? PE^" | Brooze.
--^nDin^?^'T^V~'^" T. HESSINHC?
-■Ep^'CrfaSI 1 J ^< No 90 9
^^jgf ' BIRMINGHAM, j Bronz*.
Discount orders of less than VI gross 33!% ; l'J grass ami over 50 %.
Page 17 from the T. Hessin Catalogue 1896
John Mitchell sold pens in France and Belgium which were known as 'Les
plumes ballon.' These were very fine pointed, beautifully made, steel pens
and on them was an embossed balloon and they became almost a household
name in Belgium and France. Joseph Gillot became famed for his drawing
pens, among them the famous numbers 303 and 404.
William Mitchell were known especially for their Gothic pens which were
pens covering about 1 2 different writing widths and generally mounted on a
card and sold with a pen holder. Another famous pen was Hinks Wells 'J'
pen which was finished blue or black with an embossed l J, which was very
often ground to make it stand out. C. Brandauer were known throughout
the world for certain patterns among them the 'Times', 'Mail', and 'Review'
which were sold in Australia and elsewhere.
Geo W. Hughes had many pens which were known by particular names and
I remember one called 'Platernal' which had a reservoir and was very well
known in Greece. Indeed every Maker developed a large or small range of
pens which came to be known throughout the world.
I remember in the case of my Father's Company we sold a pen called a
'Magnetic Electric pen number 520'. These pens were finished by barrel
coppering the polished steel, following this they were magnetized and in
the 1930's the 'Hawkers' in the Bull Ring in Birmingham used to hang these
pens in a chain and would stand on the edge of the pavement calling people's
attention to their wares. In some cases they would float them in a glass of
water to show that they would point to the North due to the magnetism.
# # #
THE MOST USEFUL BOX
EVER INTRODUCED FOR
OFFICES ^PRIVATE HOUSES.
..e_r~ ARE THE &yes>»
VERY FINEST QUALITY.
The following is a selection of 12 of our best selling
Patterns, which no Stationer should be without, as the
demand for these Pens is very extensive.
^ — -
id. Sample Card, containing: One Pen of each, ov the following:
12 Patterns, 7/- per gross Cards net-
No. 220 Glide Pen
No. 221 Edinburgh Pen 1/3 3 „
No. 223 Swallow Pen 1 2 3 „
3/ U N
No. 303 Mercantile Fen' i - 3 > <
No. 498 Conway Pen l 6 3 „
No. (29 Riflmnau Pen 1/6 ■ 3 „
No. 507 J PEN
1/6 1 3 -„
No. 5ai Parcel Post Pen 2
No. 542 Fawcett Pen ! 1 *
No. 567 Battery Pen 2/6
No. 569 Tender Pen 2 6 2 „
Accommodation Box, containing 12 rem eaoh,.12 favourite patterns,
1/6 per box.
Discount orders of less than 12 gross 33J% ; 12 gHMI and over 50,£.
Page 12 from the T. Hcssin Catalogue. 1896
DIFFERENT MARKETS FOR PENS
The outlets in 1930 fell into various classes. First of all there was the sale of
the proprietary pens which I have briefly touched on above, which became
known by their name, and many Buyers would not consider a substitute.
These were sold in this Country through the Wholesale Stationers, such as
W.H. Haydon of London and other well known firms who would in turn
supply Banks and Offices, Insurance Companies etc., etc. The other outlets
in England were the vast quantities of pens which were bought by the
County Council Authorities, such as London County Council, The West
Riding of Yorkshire, The Liverpool Corporation and many others, and
annually these Authorities would invite Manufacturers to quote for their
requirements which could represent anything from 10,000 to 20,000 gross
of pens for each Authority.
H.M. Stationery Office also bought a great quantity of pens and they had in
fact about 12 patterns for the use of Post Offices and other Government
departments, and all these pens were marked S. Crown O with a code
number and the initial of the Maker.
All the Railway Companies invited quotations for their annual requirements
and bought pens with their special imprints. Another very considerable
output was through Educational Wholesalers among them such firms as E.
J. Arnold & Son of Leeds, A. Brown & Sons of Hull, The Educational
Supply Association of London, Thomas Hope of Manchester, Philip and
Tacey of London and Charles Thurnam of Carlisle. These firms had built
up very large businesses to supply the Education Authorities with all
manner of Education requirements such as paper, desks, maps, drawing
instruments and naturally ink pots and pens. All these firms insisted on
having pens marked with their own name and their contracts were very
keenly sought after for they represented a very large output of pen nibs. I
have mentioned earlier that the only firm that I can remember who did not
supply these Educational Wholesalers, or indeed any of the Local
Authorities, with pens imprinted with their own name, was Geo. W.
Hughes, but what he did was to send a Traveller around the schools and
sought an interview with the Head Teachers to persuade them that Hughes
pens were the best quality available, and in many cases he was successful in
getting the schools to ask the Wholesalers to buy these particular branded
pens, and for many years he automatically got the orders because he was the
only one who could sell pens with that particular imprint.
Naturally the sales in England were very small compared with the export
orders, some of which completely eclipsed the quantities which were sold in
In my own particular case I remember well the order for the Dutch East
Indies which then included among others the main islands of Borneo, Java
and Sumatra and the annual requirements for one particular pen which was
known as the Crown or Spring Back pen amounted to 365 thousand gross or
1,000 gross for every day of the year, and this was only a small quantitiy of
the total number of patterns which were bought by the Dutch East Indies
Most of this trade at that time was done through Holland, and Exporting
Houses based in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and the Hague handled the sales
to the Indies where they had their Offices. Here again the competition was
enormously keen and for the big Government contract which perhaps
amounted to Vi million gross of pens the price at one time was as low as
threepence farthing per box of one gross of pens delivered GIF Batavia. This
at a time when there was little automation and most of the operations of
manufacture were being performed on hand presses.
Another market in that part of the World was Siam, now known as
Thailand, and there was a particularly popular pattern known as the 'spear
pointed' pen which sold in that Country.
There was the vast market of India and the most popular patterns in that
Country at the peak of British exports were the Red Ink Pen, which was
made of nickel silver, the famous Waverley type pen originated by
Macniven and Cameron to which I have already referred, and the Hindoo
pen made by the same Company. In addition the demand for the yellow
metal pen, similar in shape to Esterbrooks' famous 'Relief pen' was very
popular in the Indian Market.
The demand in Egypt was very considerable and I well remember that we
manufactured pens in my own business in the 30's for the Egyptian
Government and all the nibs were marked in Arabic.
The South African Government with headquarters in Trafalgar Square
placed a large order annually for school pens and I was delighted soon after
the 1939-45 war to obtain this contract.
Another big buyer was the Sudan Government who bought not only great
quantities of school pens but also the penholder sticks and metal holders to
go with them.
After the Great War one of the most important Suppliers of pens to Algeria
and Morocco was the firm of J.B. Mallat & Co. whose headquarters were in
Paris, but who also had an office in Antwerp. This firm did not manufacture
steel pens but placed large orders with British Manufacturers and the
patterns selected tended to follow the French demand for very fine pointed
pens. In this market there was one exception known as the Manifold or
Carbon pen which was very strong and was used for making copies ofletters
and other documents.
I well remember soon after I entered the trade at the age of 17 travelling to
Brussels and then to Antwerp to call on J.B. Mallat at a time when one
travelled by Sabena Line which was one of the first airlines to allow
smoking during a flight. In the case of my Father's Company our exports to
Europe were not large but in the case of D. Leonardt & Co. with whom later
I became associated, they enjoyed a wonderful trade in Countries such as
Latvia, Lithuania and listonia which are now Soviet Baltic republics. At one
time Leonardts had their pens manufactured in Germany and received a
Royalty on the sales of exports to the Eastern European Countries.
The South American Continent was again an enormous market for pens
and although it was those larger firms who had established their trade
names which took the bulk of the trade, my own Company sold pens in most
of the important markets in South America and I remember in the case of
Columbia we once exported a consignment of pens to Bogota intended for
use in schools. These pens were known as 'Falcon' pens and alas the packing
cases in which they were sent had been made 2" too wide and because they
could not be put into the panniers of mules to be taken up the mountains to
the schools they were all returned to our factory for repacking,- a harsh
lesson for incompetence which cost a lot of money but it taught those
responsible not to make the same mistake again.
It would be interesting to digress for a moment to comment upon the very
exact systems which were adopted for the exportation of pens. As I have
remarked in another chapter, the usual pack was 25 boxes each containing 1
gross wrapped in a parcel. In the case of D. Leonardt & Co. one of their
Senior Clerks prepared what was known as the 'Bible' and if for example
one wished to send 3,000 gross of pens No. 516 one referred to the 'Bible'
which told you, you required one No. 37 case and specified the dimensions
in inches and centimetres.Furthermore if you looked in the'Bible' under the
number 5 16 you were instantly told the weight of 3,000 gross pens so when
it came to completing the export documents reference to The Bible' made it
an automatic procedure to fill in the correct weights and measurements for
the Shipping Companies-
Mistakes in those days were very few and far between!
In the years prior to the second World War it was not usual for any of the
British Pen Manufacturers to have their own Selling Houses overseas and
the usual practice was to appoint an Agent who worked on a commission
basis and represented one's interests abroad, and in my own case we had
many Agents and in later years when I became associated with D. Leonardt
& Co. we had many more and it was the practice as far as possible to visit
one's Agents at regular intervals in order to encourage them to promote
No. 220. Glide.
•• 223. Swallow.
« 226. School.
- 498. Conway.
No. 499. Rifleman, j No. 549. 40. Pen.
- 507. J. Pen. I - 554,Sloper.
» 508.Five Slit. | - 556. Euclid.
- 541. Parcel Post. I - 569. Thunder.
Price 1/6 per Box
Discount orders of less than 12 gross, 33.',% ; 12 gross and over 50%.
Orders oi 12 boxes and upwards sent carriage paid to any address.
FIRST STAGE TOWARDS AUTOMATION
In the preceding chapters I have tried to give an accurate description of the
various processes connected with the manufacture of a steel pen, together
with the methods used for selling the pens. I shall now devote the final
chapter of my book to explain the ways in which the old methods of
manufacture have been improved, developed and combined, finally ending
in complete automation.
In describing the advances which have been made I think one must
constantly refer to the list of seventeen operations which are listed on page
nine, for it was from these that automation developed.
I suppose that with certain exceptions it would be fair to say that the most
important change in introducing automation was "that you held on to what
you wanted, instead of throwing away what you wanted".
In the old days once a pen had been blanked out it had to be picked up, or
oriented in some way before the next operation could be performed. This
meant a hand operation which in the early days was very inexpensive. One
of the firms with whom I was closely associated John Mitchell of Moland
Street, Birmingham, tackled the problem by an intermediate stage and
what they did was to blank the pens on a hand press into a magazine. The
magazine when full was attached to another machine which revolved in a
horizontal plain and each blank was discharged from the magazine by a
'knife' and red into the guide on the piercing machine. It was carried round
on a circular table and pierced and marked at two different stations, and
finally discharged. This meant that hand piercing and stamp marking had
been eliminated as far as hand operations were concerned and the pen was
then ready for annealing and raising.
At about the same time rotary raising machines were devised and following
the annealing process the pens were fed manually into vertical guides
outside the tool area and were carried round between the raising die and
punch and were raised in the vertical plane. When they had been raised they
fell out of the guides freely. This method of course necessitated the single
handling of each nib into the guide and the process of automation had not
yet been completed.
OPERATIONS 1-6 BLANKING, PIERCING,
ANNEALING, MARKING, EMBOSSING, RAISING
Probably the next step was the amalgamation of cutting, piercing, marking
and raising in a Progression Tool. To achieve this the pens were made from
coil steel which had been sheared to the correct width. The first operation in
the progression tooling was piercing, followed by marking, following which
the outline of the pen was cut out and the only place at which it was still held
in the strip was at the heel. Having freed the pen from the strip it could then
be raised between a punch and die. The final step in the progression was to
sever the heel from the strip.
Photograph showing a strip of progressive tooling,
which covered all operations 1 - 6
It will be appreciated that in order to achieve this progression very accurate
feeding was required and there were various ways of controlling the length
of the feed. In some cases where extreme accuracy was unecessary it was
sufficient to rely on a roll feed or a gripper feed which pushed the steel
through the press tool at controlled intervals and set distances. However if
absolute accuracy is sought the normal method is to use what are
called 'pilots' whereby the press feed feeds the strip as near as possible to its
required distance and then releases it. The pilots then come down and take
control of it so that it is exactly located when the punches do their work.
Having achieved this type of progression it then became necessary to use
annealed steel in such a state that it could be raised and follow the correct
form, whereas, as I have explained in an earlier chapter, the original method
was to blank and pierce out of hard rolled steel, which tended to produce a
cleaner bank and pierce hole. This therefore was one of the things one lost
when trying to cut out labour and achieve more economical production.
OPERATIONS 7 AND 8:
HARDENING AND TEMPERING
As explained in an earlier chapter, following raising the next operation was
heat treatment, i.e. hardening and tempering. The present method, which
offers a great advance on the old system, is that the pens are hardened in
what is known as a Shaker Hearth. This is an electric furnace and the pens
pass through on a heat resistant chromium hearth for a regulated time, and
the progress of the pens is controlled by a cam which jerks them forward in
much the same way as a passenger in a motor car is jerked forward when the
car stops suddenly. At the end of the tunnel the pens, at a temperature of
850°C are discharged into a basket in a tempering bath which contains a
solution of sodium nitrate/ sodium nitrite at a temperature of approximately
360° C. One of the great advantages of this method of hardening is that it
incorporates an endothermic gas plant whereby a screen of lighted gas
prevents the atmosphere from entering the furnace and the result of this is
that when the pens are discharged into the tempering salts they are scale
free. They are allowed to soak in the tempering basket for approximately 20
minutes to half an hour and are then taken out bv means of an electric hoist
and quenched in water. Nowadays in the case of many carbon steel springs
completely automatic hardening and tempering flirnaces are used which
not only heat the components up to the correct temperature but
automatically discharge them from the tempering and water quench tank
when they have gone through the full process.
The Reader will remember that one of the things that enabled the Hardener
to judge the correct heat was looking for a colour of cherry red by eye but
nowadays a Shaker Hearth furnace is fitted with an automatic pyrometer
setting which ensures that temperatures are correct and it is not difficult to
produce a hardened and tempered article automatically in the range of
Rockwell C 40/44. By reason of the fact that the pens have no scale, but
merely a blue discolouration the subsequent polishing operations have been
made very much easier.
OPERATION 9: SCOURING
Following tempering the cleaning and de-burring operation is carried out,
but the equipment is the same as for operation thirteen, polishing, (see page
45) a vibratory bowl taking the place of the old scouring barrels.
OPERATION 10: GRINDING
We next come to the question of grinding which has been described in an
earlier chapter. I know of only one machine which was devised for grinding
the pens and that again was in the Company with which I was very closely
associated, John Mitchell who devised a semi automatic machine which
would straight grind and cross grind. The pens were fed one by one into
guides which were mounted on a circular carrying bar which carried them
round the machine and passed them under grinding wheels which either
cross ground or straight ground according to the demand of the Customer.
However this still remained an expensive operation and the practice grew of
using a marking punch to give the appearance of grinding across the point.
This was a method which enabled the Manufacturers to introduce it into
the early stages of automation and as the coil passed through the power press
which cut, pierced and marked the blanks, it could at the same time provide
an imprint,or what in fact was imitation grinding,giving almost the same
appearance of grinding on a carborundum wheel, but of course lacking the
qualities of hand grinding for two reasons: One, this imprint was put on
before the hardening and tempering of the pen; and Two, not haying the
effect of making the pens slightly thinner k did not add to the flexibility. It
was what I suppose people today would call a cheap imitation in the
interests of economy, but it was accepted and therefore sold.
OPERATION 11: SLITTING
Following grinding came the operation of slitting the pens which again I
have described in an earlier chapter showing the method which was
originally used. Some Readers may ask why it was not possible to put the
slitting into an automatic progression tool and bring the pens off the power
press ready for heat treatment. It was possible to make pens which were
made from brass or nickel silver in this way and the method which was used
was for the slit to be put in the blank held in the strip before raising,and
when the pen was raised the slit was closed by the pressure of the raising
punch so when the pen came off the press it was in fact finished. This was
not possible in the case of a carbon steel pen which had to be hardened and
tempered because if the pens were slit before heat treatment the effect of
hardening was to spread the points open, thus making them valueless.
Therefore it was accepted, even by the largest Pen Manufacturers, that
slitting had to be done after heat treatment and by some means of semi
automation. There may have been methods with which I am not familiar
but one of the most successful which I have used myself and which was used
very successfully by the well known firm Macniven and Cameron was to
provide the motive force by electricity while retaining the method of slitting
as used on hand presses as described in an earlier chapter.
Slitting cutters were mounted in a die set and these die sets were put on a
bench underneath a revolving shaft which was driven by an electric motor.
Cams were mounted on the shaft which as they revolved depressed the lop
of the die set and moved the top slitting cutter down in a vertical direction.
The speed could easily be regulated by means of pullies or a variable speed
motor so that the top die set could be depressed at the rate of one stroke a
second or two strokes a second according to the speed which suited the
operator. By this means the operators no longer had to activate the fly of the
hand press because the tool was constantly going up and down in front of
them and the skill lay in getting the synchronization of timing correct; in
other words if the top slitting cutter was moving up and down at one a
second, the girls had to locate the point of the pen in the guides as soon as the
top cutter was free from the bottom cutter and hold the pens in position
until the top cutter came down and put in the slit. When this method was
first introduced it took a long time for the operators to get accustomed to the
correct timing, and to start off what normally happened was that they
missed one stroke of the press altogether and fed every other one, but with
practice as always great skill followed and whereas to start off they were
slitting probably one pen every two seconds, they finished up by being able
to slit two pens in a second. It was unfortunate in many ways that this
development came almost at the time when the demand for steel pens was
fading for had it been used in the earlier days the result would have been a
great improvement in productivity. Indeed it is true to say that many
methods which were thought up and put into practice during the 160 years
since the steel pen trade began are now no longer used for the simple reason
that there is no great demand for pen nibs but these inventions were not lost
and many of them have been applied to other small metal objects such as
pocket clips which still sell in great quantities.
Whilst I am on the subject of slitting it is worth remarking that the advent of
carbide tipped slitting cutters was another great help to slitting toolmakers
for these retained their cutting edge for much longer.
There are six other operations, numbers 12 to 17 inclusive and as far as
these are concerned it will suffice to restrict myself to a short paragraph on
each because there have been no major changes as far as automation is
concerned, principally due to the fact that the demand did not justify it.
OPERATION 12: POINT FORMING
In view of the limited number of pens sold with formed points the method of
hand press point forming has not to my knowledge been changed.
OPERATIONS 9 AND 13: SCOURING AND POLISHING
There have been changes in the method of polishing. To some extent this
was due to the fact that the Welsh granite is no longer available and the
tendency nowadays is to use a large variety of grades in ceramic chippings.
These chippings are placed in open circular vibratory polishing machines
which can easily be discharged when the polishing operation is finished by
the use of a magnetized moving tray, and removes the extreme physical
effort of taking "shaking cans," as used in the early days, out of the frames,
picking them up and emptying them by hand. This new type of polishing is
now widely used for other small metal articles, but by the time they came on
the market need for them in respect of pen nibs had disappeared.
OPERATION 14: COLOURING, AND 15: LACQUERING
As far as I am concerned although it is possible to colour pens by immersing
them in a chemical we still use the old fashioned colouring barrel which has
been described in an earlier chapter and similarly use the same method for
OPERATION 16: LOOKING OVER
In many cases pens are still examined physically before being despatched
but the usual method of quality control inspection today is to look at a
specific number of articles out of a specific batch. The number required is
laid down by the British Standards Specification and if out of the number
selected less than the given quantity of waste is found, the whole batch is
An example of
passed. If however above the given quantity is found to be scrap a further
sample is looked at, and if this too does not pass the test then the whole batch
is thrown away or all the articles are examined individually.
OPERATION 17: BOXING
This has not materially changed since the methods I have described in an
earlier chapter, for the decrease in demand has made it unecessary to devise
ways of boxing more speedily. I have no doubt that had the demand of long
ago still existed electronic weighing and boxing machines would have been
devised which would virtually have eliminated female labour.
This concludes my account of the changes which took place between
the years 1930 and 1980 and as the reader will see this account deals
principally with the technical side of carbon steel pen making, with a short
account of the method of selling and with some reference to the different
markets of the world, together with some supporting photographs and
Maybe one day I shall be prompted to write another book dealing not with
the technical side of this old trade, but more with the social aspects and
conditions of work of those with whom I have worked nearly all my life,
coupled with my own experiences in the pre-war years at T. Hessin & Co.
and afterwards with the establishment of the Highley Pen Co., the merger
with D. Leonardt & Co. and the establishment of Mehra Leonardt Pens
(Pvt) Ltd in partnership with my friends Amarnath and Ramnath Mehra of
B.N. Mehra & Co. of Bombay, India.
Some of the prints in this book appear in the book written by the late
Mr. Henry Bore over 100 years ago and I am grateful to him.
Others, also over 100 years old, have been made available to me by Mr.
Philip Poole who has built up a valuable collection of samples and
historical facts on The Steel Pen Trade at 182, Drury Lane, London
WC2B 5QL and his co-operation is appreciated.
Finally, I dedicate this little volume to my Wife who has made it
possible by her encouragement, helpful editing, and constructive